French Football Rear Its Ugly Head, Again!

French football authorities have begun an inquiry into claims that national coach Laurent Blanc and other coaches secretly agreed on a quota restricting the number of black and Arab players in training programs. The investigative website Mediapart said last week that the aim was to limit to 30 percent the number of players of African and North-African descent in training academies once they reached the age of 13. Blanc insists such a move was never discussed.

French football federation technical director Francois Blaquart is suspended pending the inquiry, which included a transcript of a conversation involving Blanc, Blaquart, under-21 coach Erick Mombaerts and under-20 coach Francis Smerecki in November. In the transcript, an angry Smerecki calls the proposal a "discriminatory" idea that should never see the light of day. He has not yet commented on Mediapart's article. The focus of the conversation was to find a way to limit the number of players with dual nationalities coming through the French youth teams before then deciding to play for their country of origin as adults.

All four will be interviewed this week by a special commission headed by Patrick Braouezec, who had already led an inquiry examining the reasons for the France team's strike at last year's World Cup. Laurent Davenas, president of the federation's ethics council and a member of the French sports ministry will also be involved in the inquiry. Blanc, on vacation in Italy, will be interviewed Friday or Saturday, Davenas said. The turmoil comes just as Blanc was beginning to reverse the team's fortunes following the World Cup debacle. The team, under former coach Raymond Domenech, went on strike in protest at Nicolas Anelka's exclusion and was eliminated in the group stage without winning a match.

French Sports Minister Chantal Jouanno urgently requested that the federation open an inquiry hours after Mediapart's story broke last Thursday night. Jouanno wants it to be completed by the end of this week. The federation said Tuesday the conclusions will be discussed further at a meeting next week and it will not comment until then.

Andre Merelle, a former head of France's national training center at Clairefontaine until being released by Blaquart in September, felt there was a problem with the perception of dual nationals within French football's hierarchy. "During my time we were already reproached for taking so many blacks and Arabs. The argument that I was given was, 'we pay them, we bring them up, and then they go and play abroad (for another country)'," Merelle told Mediapart.

Former France star Lilian Thuram, Blanc's teammate when France won the 1998 World Cup and European Championship two years later, said he was shocked when he heard race quotas had been discussed. Former France defenders Basile Boli and Luc Sonor and former France goalkeeper Bernard Lama have also expressed outrage. Others, like France midfielder Alou Diarra and striker Karim Benzema, have publicly backed Blanc, although both said they are upset at the very thought of quotas being discussed.

Source: Associated Press

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